I awoke the next night naked and quite changed. Coursing through me was a hunger unlike any I had ever known, as if my entire body were starving, and it wasn’t food I wanted. Looking at the dirty sleeping prisoner at my side and the the bars before me, I realized I was in the prison below our grand castle. But I gave my location little thought. I could smell the blood pumping through the veins of the sleeping man, I could hear his heart beat pounding out that precious liquid, and somehow I knew the way it would taste on my tongue. I tried to resist this unnatural urge but it was too powerful. I had no idea what I was doing as I walked over to the man but I let instincts take over. Crouching down, I lowered my head to his neck, to the vein that I knew would yield to me more blood than others, and I sunk my teeth deep into the artery. I thought idly that I should be disgusted by the coppery taste of the hot, thick liquid but regardless of what I should feel, I was filled only with satisfaction. ‘Yes,’ I thought, ‘This is everything now’…
“Rapunzel…” Richard gasped out my name.
This diverted my attention from the dead man and I froze where I was, looking at my husband, my brother in law Henry (known as Harry to distinguish him from his father), and two guards. I watched Richard excuse himself to get sick in a corner as my beloved Harry asked simply, “My dear, what in hell’s name are you doing and what has happened to your clothes?”
I could think of nothing else to say except, “I suppose I am saving that man from a public execution. I don’t know where my clothes are…I don’t know anything. I just woke up.”
“I see. Well, in that case…”
“Get the hell out! All of you, just get the hell out! Breathe not one word of this to anyone! If this gets out I will slit your throats! Yes, Harry, even yours! Do not tempt me!” Richard commanded after he had recovered from his initial reaction. Harry bowed to me and because I had no idea how to respond, I stood and curtseyed in return. His thin smile was nearly comforting but the moment I was left alone with my husband all thoughts of comfort fled my mind. I was colder than I had ever been, I was terrified out of my mind, and as I looked into the eyes of the man I loved, I saw only disgust and pity. “I can’t stand to be down here another moment. I will send someone to dispose of that body. In the meantime, I think it would be best if we went to our chambers.”
As he let me out of the cell, I couldn’t look at him. I didn’t know what to say to him, how to tell him that I had become a monster, and when my tongue touched the two tiny teeth now on either side of the top of my mouth, when I sliced my own flesh just running it along the point, I wanted to cry. I tried to take his hand only to have him jerk away. He hadn’t even offered me his cloak, allowing me to walk through secret passages three floors up naked as the day I was born. I think that said everything about his opinion of my transformation. And it was no surprise. Richard was a person that needed a rational explanation for everything, he needed to understand the mechanics of all problems he encountered in order to formulate a solution, and for this there was no rational explanation. I had a feeling there was no solution either beyond my death. As if to prove this to myself, I touched my hand to my heart and found what I suspected I would find. It no longer beat. Of course not. I hadn’t taken a breath since I woke up so how the hell could I possess a beating heart? Shutting the door behind us, he turned on me as if I were his enemy, demanding harshly, “I want answers, damn it! I want details! What the hell happened last night? What did you do? What could have possibly made you this…thing you’ve become?”
Grabbing a robe lying on the floor, I started crying. This was absolutely horrible and I couldn’t be strong anymore. I wanted to die. But as I faced him, I held my head high, retorting furiously, “I will not tell you a goddamned thing until you stop treating me like a beast! Can you imagine, for one moment, what I am going through, you selfish bastard? I have lost my life and apparently my love along with it and I have no idea what I am! How dare you act indignant when this is not happening to you! You are such a …”
He had moved closer and suddenly he gasped, stopping me in mid-insult. “Oh, Rapunzel….your tears…”
“What of them?” I spat out.
Gently he touched a finger to my cheek and held it out for my inspection. My tears had turned to blood. I never wept as I wept in that moment, dropping to my knees because my legs could no longer hold me. “I am sorry. I never meant to be cruel to you. You haven’t lost me, my girl. I am right here. We will figure this out.” He said all of this in a convincing way but he only patted my shoulder, refusing to take me in his arms even though I was falling apart.
“It would be best if you found out how to kill me and you just ended it! I am an abomination, something for which there is no name…”
“You are a vampire.”
I had never heard this word in my life. Looking up at him, I asked, “What the hell are you talking about? What is a vampire and, more importantly, what the hell do you know about it?”
Reaching into his shirt, he produced a letter. “This was left for me. At the time I thought it was nonsense. I spent the entire night and half of today downstairs with the men so I paid no mind to the fact that you were missing when I came to bed. I assumed you were out. And when I found a letter on your pillow telling me you had become a vampire, that you couldn’t help but drink blood, and that sunlight and fire are the only things now that will kill you…Well, you can imagine my reaction. When I awoke and no one had seen you, I decided to check the place where this mysterious letter-writer told me you were. I never thought I would actually find you there or that any of the information was truth. Who would believe such a thing? If I was told the truth, there is no way to undo this. We will just have to find a way to…live with it.”
“There is a way to undo it. Burn me! Let me walk into the sun tomorrow! Let’s be done with this! Why should I live? Who would allow such a thing?”
Standing up suddenly, he scooped me up as if I was a rag doll and he put me into bed. “You will not burn, Rapunzel Winchester, and I will not have you talk such horse shit! This is terrible, what has happened to you, and it is the worst thing you have ever faced but it is not the end of the world! You are immortal! Despite the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the immortality, there is that. And I still love you, you little fool! I can die knowing you will live on for all time and you want to deny me that so that you can martyr yourself tomorrow? Who is being selfish now? No, as I said, we will figure this out. But first I need to know everything that happened last night.”
Sitting down in his chair beside the bed, he listened closely to everything I told him, starting with the affair and ending with me losing consciousness the night before. I told him about the miscarriage only so he would understand how overwhelming the blood thirst was, how it drove Drake to do something I do not think he meant to do when he came. I wanted him to understand something that made no sense to me. And I needed him to forgive me for the mistake I made with Drake when he left me the year before. But he showed no emotion, he gave no reaction, to anything I said and when I finished the story, he only stood, telling me to stay put so he could go off and write his mother. I waited as patiently as I could for an hour. I thought that was quite extraordinary given the fury I felt at his leaving me in the first place. But when that hour was up, I went in search of him so I could give him a piece of my mind.
I found him sitting at his desk in the study with his hands in an arch under his chin, lost in thought. A freshly printed letter sat before him and, thanks to my improved vision, I could see tears staining the page. “What the hell is wrong with you? I tell you I’ve been made a monster and your first instinct is to write a letter to your bloody mother? What do you think she can do about this, besides personally schedule my execution? Maybe that’s why you’ve written her. You know it must be done and you haven’t the heart to do it yourself so you wrote mummy to come handle the problem for you!”
Slamming his fist down on the desk, he shouted, “Enough! I have heard enough! I will not allow anyone to hurt you no matter what you’ve become and either will my mother! If you think that is what I want, you have lost more than your humanity! You’ve lost all sense of the man you married! You are still my everything but, as we are both aware, you have changed! Stop glaring at me like you want to see me burned on a stake, will you? It is truth. And the truth is, we can’t tell the people what’s happened. I need to figure out what to do with…”
“Yes. Mother loves you but she doesn’t love you the way I do. She will protect you but she will be practical. That is why I need her. I cannot be practical right now. I can’t do what is best for any of us.”
“You are treating this as if it were a battle plan instead of my life. I am your wife yet you can speak so calmly about how I will spend the rest of eternity. Where is your fear? Where is your tenderness? To hell with it. You are released from your vows. ‘Til death do us part’, correct? My heart no longer beats. You are free. Since you both know the truth, I suppose I will have to allow your mother to decide my fate but beyond that, I am on my own. I will be in my bedchamber thinking over my options until dawn when I will return to my dungeon. Have a nice evening.”
“So now it is your bedchamber?” He questioned coldly.
“Isn't it?” I replied, just as cold. I walked away, refusing to shed a tear, refusing to look back. I was on my own, just as I said.
I was sitting on my bed trying to process everything that happened since I awoke, trying to make sense of something that was beyond rationality, when my husband came in, knocking before he entered in response to our last words to one another. That pissed me off even more. With everything going on, I was in no mood for sarcasm or tantrums. He only added to this by coming over to the bed and waiting for my permission before he sat. I was about to unleash every harsh word that stood on the tip of my tongue when he said. “I know how it looks, Rapunzel. I know it seems like I don’t care about what has happened to you or about your future but that’s not true. I am filled with worry and I am filled with sorrow. You are the love of my life. I do not know how to deal with this feeling that I’ve lost you even though you are sitting right here. Are you dead? Are you somewhere in between? To me, it doesn’t matter. You must know that! I love you still! So stop acting like you are in this alone. Stop spouting out your cruel nonsense. And don’t ever tell me that you are on your own! By god, I am still here and I will be here for you until I take my last breath!”
He took my hand in his despite the icy feel of it and when he put it to his warm lips, I discovered that I could still smile despite everything that was happening. “Fine. I’m not alone. We are in this together. But when your mother hands down my sentence, I alone will face it. You know that, don’t you? It isn’t as if you can disappear from public view without an explanation. But knowing that you love me despite all of this is a comfort and it might give me the strength to go along with all of this.”
Kissing my hand once more, he looked at me and I saw the tears standing in his beautiful blue eyes. “As I’ve said, you are my everything. I promise I will do what I can to be there for you regardless of what mother plans. But I must go. I have much I need to do. Please, stay out of view as much as possible. If we have to tell the world that you are dead, it would not do to have many witnesses to the contrary.”
I rarely saw him until his mother arrived. She traveled in secret with William Marshal at her side and when she came, she had her plan all worked out. I was summoned into Richard’s study where Eleanor, Richard, and William sat waiting. It took her no more than ten minutes to lay out my life for the next few decades. They would announce that I was dead from an illness, that I took my last breath with Richard at my side. While the public and my beloved parents digested this news, I would be taken in secret to a tower that was just minutes from my father’s estate. I thought that all of this was rather cruel. When she told me of the tower, I finally broke. I was sobbing so hard that both Eleanor and Richard came to comfort me. She knew what I had become. She knew her son had been feeding me prisoners while we waited for her. Yet she embraced me as if nothing changed between us. “Eleanor, how could you, of all people, suggest captivity for me? Do you want me to lose my mind? I won’t have a castle, I won’t have a friend like William, I will be in a tower all alone for years on end. Can’t you see how awful that will be?”
“I know, my dear. Believe me, it was the last thing that I wanted for you. But I have no choice. If the people found out about you, they would demand that you be put to death. And what if you can’t control yourself out in the world? I know what you have been…living on since you changed. Condemned men are one thing. But what if you take this thirst of yours out on innocent people? The tower is the only way to protect you and our subjects. It won’t be forever. One day you will be released, I swear it. I will make sure that you receive your condemned men and I will get anything you need to make the tower bearable. At first you will think that you cannot survive it but, in time, you will adjust just as I have. You are a strong woman, Rapunzel. You will make it through this.”
I watched as she wrote to my parents, telling them the story of my death. She told them that she would break with protocol for the remains of people who die of an unknown illnesses and, instead of burning my body, she would have me buried wherever they wished. She was going to great lengths to make this seem real. And all the while I sat there in silence with Richard’s arms around me for the first time since I “changed” silently asking myself why I was going along with any of this. But I knew the answer. If I left, if I refused to go to that tower, I would never see Richard again. I would have to leave him behind. He and Eleanor swore to me that he would come see me when he could. Even though there was a piece of me that wanted to rebel, it wasn’t worth risking those moments when he would visit.
The rest of that night was spent in bed with Richard. He wouldn’t let me go. We just lay there in silence as he held me tightly against him. Now and then he would whisper his love for me and he would plant a kiss on my cold, white cheek. It was as if he was afraid to go too far, like he was unsure that I could take it. Maybe he thought I would attack him. I don’t know. But I could smell his fear. I knew somehow that it wasn’t fear of me but fear for me that was coursing through him. I could almost hear his thoughts on the matter. I said nothing. I simply let him hold me as I tried to imagine how I would survive in a tower of stone with no one but the rats for company.
The next night we left the Aquitaine bound for London. Throughout the journey, Richard was by my side. If we were caught outdoors close to sunrise, he would help me dig a hole to sleep in as if it were the most natural thing in the world. When I woke, he would help me clean the dirt from my “impossibly long” hair. It was as if he were adapting to my change better than I was. But it was clear that he hadn’t accepted his mother’s demand. As we were riding away from London, just minutes from my parents’ estate, Richard asked in a shaky voice, “Mother, are you sure that this is the best way?”
Looking at us sympathetically, she replied, “It isn’t the best way, my dears, it is the only way. Be strong, Richard. She will need your love and strength tonight more than ever before.”
I had always loved Eleanor for her strength and as she looked at me with understanding in her eyes, I felt at last that I could handle this. It would be terrible and I would most likely hate every moment I spent alone but I would make it through just as she had made it through. I knew what she risked by coming to The Aquitaine and what she was risking at that moment by being with us. If Henry knew that she had left her prison, he would think up some harsh punishment for her. But she didn’t give it a second thought. She did what she had to do. And I had to do the same. As she took my hand, I smiled though I was on the brink of tears. Looking out, I saw the path that lead to my home, the home I shared with my family, and I had to look away. It broke my heart to think of my mother, of what she said to me the day that I left. I prayed to no one in particular that she make it through the loss of another child despite her belief that she couldn’t.
When we reached the tower, I was completely overwhelmed. It stood about one hundred feet tall, taller than any building I had ever seen, and it was made of stone. The shutters on the only window did not look sturdy enough to block out all of the sun so unless Eleanor ordered a chest for me to sleep in, I figured I could probably end it all by daybreak…Eleanor was the one that took my hand and led me out of the carriage. Richard walked on my other side, holding my hand. He was trembling and I wanted to tell him not to worry, that all would be fine, but I couldn’t find the words. I just followed my mother-by-marriage inside of the massive structure and up a ladder so large it took twelve of Richard’s men to lift it. Each step felt like I was walking closer and closer to the gallows and more than once I thought of running. But I would look back and see my husband right behind me, reminding me that I had to stay. So I went through the little trap door into my circular stone prison where a bed was already set up along with a desk and a crate of candles. As men brought up my chests, something I thought impossible given the ladder and the size of the door, Eleanor opened the shutters and lit some candles. She was trying to make it warm and I was grateful for that.
“I remember that you used to write when you were younger so I arranged for you to have everything you need to write here. You have your parchment and your ink…your quills…when you run out, write me a letter under Joan’s name and I will send you more.”
“But how will you know it is from me and not Joan?” I asked, offhandedly.
“Because my daughter isn’t allowed to write me. Anyway, if you need anything at all, regardless of how big or small it is, just write me. I will give the two of you some time to say…” She trailed off there and waved a hand toward us as she went to the door. I knew she was in tears. Was it speaking of Joan or seeing me face a fate she knew too well that upset her so? I don’t know. But it broke my heart.
My husband and I sat side by side on the small bed, silent at first and when he turned toward me as if to say something, he completely broke down. Both of us wept as we clung to one another. I was thinking that I would never again wake up to see him beside of me and never again would I go to sleep in his arms. Never would I know what it felt like to give birth to the children we so looked forward to. That was perhaps the hardest blow for me. I was losing my marriage and the man that I loved. Our life together was over the same as if I had died. Only Richard understood the heartbreaking anguish inside of me.
When he could speak, he declared, “This is not goodbye! Do you understand? This isn’t the end for us. I would never abandon you so do not think for a moment that I am leaving and I won’t come back. As long as I live, I will always come back. You are still my wife. More importantly, you are still the love of my life. So don’t weep, sweet girl. I’ll be back in no time.”
I tried to smile but it fell flat. “This is good news because you have all I had to give of love. We have what few people we know ever tasted in a marriage. You and I have love between us. That is too powerful a bond to break, Richard, and neither time nor this curse of mine shall tear it down.” A sob broke from me unexpectedly and I cried out like a prayer, “God help me, I love you! How am I supposed to live like this? What can I do when my very soul feels like its dying?”
He had to go, he said. It was best. He couldn’t save me and it was no good torturing him with my pleas and my cries. Left alone in that god awful place, watching the carriage and the horses ride away, I wanted to die. I could think of nothing else and after the carriage and its caravan of men were out of sight I started toying with the idea of leaving the shutters open and allowing the sun to do as it wanted with my tainted flesh. But the more I thought on it, the more I knew that I had not the strength for such an end. My next thought went to murder. As I unpacked my belongings and I tried to make the place comfortable I thought of simply killing the men that would bring me my prisoners. I would then climb down the ladder to freedom but there was one terrible glitch in that plan. If I did that I would lose the little bit I had left because I would never be able to return to Richard. All plans of escape came back to that. In the end I sat down on the bed and I tried to let in the idea that I had to accept what happened to me.
This would have been difficult enough without my imprisonment, just knowing that I was a vampire and that I was alone. I had no one to show me how to be a vampire as I imagined every vampire that existed had. It felt like being an infant again with no parent in sight. But having endless time to ponder this in the silent confines of my one small room was pure hell. Yes, I still had Richard. I held so tight to that knowledge that I knew if something were to happen to him and I were not set free at once, I would end my life. But what could ever happen to Richard? In my eyes, he was indestructible. So whenever I thought the darkness and the pain might swallow me whole, I took comfort in the thoughts of the man that loved me still and I tried to convince myself it was enough.
It was weeks before I saw him again but he seemed distant, changed toward me. It was as if, as we sat on my small bed side by side, he no longer knew how to act with me. I tried to assure him in my gestures and my laugh that despite it all, I was the same girl he fell in love with. But it was a lie and I wasn’t a skilled enough actress to pull it off. For two years our time together was like that, welcomed but uncomfortable. He would tell me he loved me still and I believed him. I would tell him I thought only of him and he probably believed that too. However, all the love in the world couldn’t help us get used to seeing each other when time allowed, his warm hand in my cold one, both of us trying so hard to avoid the things we needed most to talk about.
Eventually I stopped hoping for a break in the ice, for a genuine smile, or for a laugh that did not seem forced on his part or mine. I accepted things for what they were and I was grateful for them despite the change. But one night my husband came storming through the small door that led to my room with all of the fire in his eyes that he once had and he demanded, without so much as a hello, the motive behind my affair with Drake. “I left and you fucked him…”
“Fucked whom?” I asked, chuckling despite myself. He made this all sound very recent and the thought seemed hilarious to me.
“Drake! Please, don’t interrupt. I left you and you fucked him, you told me that much, but in all this time you’ve never told me why. I’ve waited for the right moment to discuss all of this. I’ve put it off with each visit thinking he is probably the last person you want to talk about given the way things ended, but I need answers, damn it! I deserve answers!”
“You deserve them, do you? You left me in the middle of the bloody night, vanished without a trace, as if I meant no more to you than a tavern wench, and you believe you deserve an answer to why I fucked someone else? Your time to act indignant has long passed, my love. I might have tolerated it the first few weeks after I was locked away here but now? I think not!”
Knocking over one of my precious chests, he shouted, “Damn you, one has nothing to do with the other! You knew I was coming back, that I wanted to marry you…”
“And that was supposed to magically make things better? That was supposed to undo the damage already done? How many nights did you weep in agony believing I no longer wanted you, that you were nothing more than someone to warm my bed for a time, the way that I did because of you? I never wanted to be a wife! Do you recall that? I never wanted marriage, I didn’t want children, and I had no intentions of falling in love. You made me love you, you bastard, and then you ran away! That letter of yours, the day I received it, tore to hell every piece of the heart that I carefully stitched together after I woke up and found you gone! I needed time to consider my options and pardon me if I think it rational that considering those options included bedding someone besides you! I had no experience before you came back that first time, nothing to compare it to, no way of knowing if what we had was love or lust…”
“You wanted revenge. Even if I never found out about your tryst with the stable boy, you would know that you did not accept my offer before getting revenge first.” He laughed at this revelation in a mad sort of way. “That is perfect! It couldn’t have been made up any better! We are here in this god-forsaken place right now, not only because of the revenge he sought on you but because of the revenge you sought against me. You spoiled little bitch!”
Never had Richard talked to me like that. Not even when we were kids and he despised me. Given what I could have done to him, I believe the slap that I delivered to his cheek was nothing. It brought him back to reality before he enraged me and there was no turning back. For a moment we stood toe to toe, glaring at one another, each of us furious, me trying to justify the past while he tried to somehow undo it. It occurred to me that I felt warmer, more alive, in that moment than I had in any other outside of when I took human life. But when he asked softly, “Was it more than revenge? Did you love him?” I was suddenly tired of our game.
I knew what he was thinking. No, I couldn’t quite hear his thoughts like words spoken aloud, but I knew nonetheless. He was wondering if I hadn’t loved them both and married him only because he was the more financially attractive option. I couldn’t decide if that doubt of his made me want to hug him or kill him. “No, I didn’t love him. If I had, I would have been a stable boy’s wife and we would all be free of this. It probably would’ve been better for the three of us if I would have loved him. I am sure you will agree in time if you don’t already. But as inconvenient as it was for us all, you were the only thing I could see long before I was imprisoned here.”
He took me in his arms and kissed the top of my head with as much passion and fury as he had done everything else since he came in. “Don’t say that, damn it! Nothing about your love for me is inconvenient. No matter how this will end, I will never feel that way and you are a fool if you feel that way yourself.” He kissed me with heat, with desire for the first time since I woke up a vampire and then he simply left. I had no idea when he would return. But things were better between us and that was something.